It’s Wednesday, March 28th, and the great & good of the classic era of punk and new wave gathered for a night of celebration at the inaugural Vive Le Rock Awards. The O2 Islington is the place – a 1980s brown brick purpose built venue at the back of a shopping centre just to the north of The Angel (that’s one of the blue ones on the first quarter if the Monopoly board if you’re a traditionalist like me. None of them new fangled localist boards in my house). This night there are 300 carefully invited guests & 200 paying punters, and the squeeze is on for an evening filled with the sound of working class people getting uppity, celebrating the old times and getting royally smashed.
It was one of those nights that made you pause for a moment to ponder about the state of the music magazine industry. Looking along the shelves in your local newsagents is not always a pretty sight these days. It’s a case of turning up with your cash and hoping your favourite read is still on the go. Seems like a big name crashes every couple of months or merges to pursue economies of scale or goes 51% up for sale.
It’s the internet wot dun it, of course. The print market is tough, we know that, but there’s still a thriving market for niche titles that do just what they say on the tin and among those Vive Le Rock is one of the market leaders.
Founded in 2010 by the good people at Big Cheese and having recently reached its fiftieth issue, Vive is the go-to publication for British fans of rebel music, whether from the past or the present day. From Gene Vincent to The Ramones, Motörhead and The Pistols to The Gaslight Anthem or White Lies or Rancid. If it used to get up your grandma’s nose back in the day or if it pisses off your kids now then it’s probably grist to the Vive Le Rock mill.
The design and content of the mag pay homage to the days of the classic fanzine, so that despite all the corporate necessities that go with publishing in the twenty-first century, it still manages to be an outsider magazine for outsiders.
The main business of the evening is, of course, the distribution of awards, but there’s some fine music as well, and after a welcome and a little bit of history from editor Eugene Butcher, we kicked off with the house band for the night, who go by the soubriquet of ‘The Vive Le Rockers’ but in fact they are most of The Urban Voodoo Machine, which is about as good as a house band gets. They fall in perfectly behind each of the solo performers in turn, a master class in musical adaptability.
If you’re going to spend an evening celebrating classic British punk, then you can’t start off better than a set from living legend T.V. Smith, formerly of The Adverts, and nowadays in serious danger of acquiring national treasure status. The current issue of Vive Le Rock has an excellent feature on the music of 1978 and “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” and “One Chord Wonders”, both from that year, still pack a punch.
He was followed by Master of Ceremonies Ginger Wildheart, with a set that included two from his newest long player, Ghost In The Tanglewood, to whit “Daylight Hotel” and “Golden Tears” and a favourite of mine, “Toxins and Tea” from 2015’s Year Of The Fanclub.
The awards themselves are shared among some of the biggest names in punk and roots music, with Kirk Brandon picking up the Pioneer Award on behalf of The Cure, Best New Band going to London oi favourites Booze & Glory, and the Roots Award went to The Selecter.
Best Film was presented by Brix Smith-Start, and went to the team from Buttz Films, creators of Rebellion, Gary Crowley got Best Re-Issue and AC/DC drummer Chris Slade picked up the Rock In Peace Award, which commemorated Malcolm Young. Perennial favourite street punks Cock Sparrer were Best Live Act.
Album Of The Year, presented by Shakin’ Stevens, went to The Professionals for What In The World. It’s my first visit with Paul Cook’s gang since Tom Spencer replaced Steve Jones on guitar and they sound just as driven and gloriously rough at the edges as they did at their late ‘70s prime. “Going, Going, Gone”, a tribute to messirs Lemmy and Bowie, is a new track that’s definitely worth checking out, and although I haven’t got What In The World Yet, on this evidence it’s definitely near the top of the list.
Best International Performer went to Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks, who managed to overcome his natural shyness to pick up the trophy from Steve Diggle of The Stranglers. He later took the stage for two songs with the house band, during which he manages to climb over most of the stage equipment and performed some remarkable feats of balance on the mojos.
Charlie Harper was up next to get the King Rocker/Icon Award from Captain Sensible, and he delivered a couple of songs including “CID”, as full of raucous energy as you could wish, and then it was over to England legend Stuart Pearce to present the Band Of The Year Award to The Damned. And it was up to them to close things down with a set that included “New Rose”, “Jet Boy Jet Girl” and even a brief “Wot”.
What have I missed? A great piece of rock and roll from the legend that is Shakin Stevens, Stuart Pearce leading a chorus of “Sensible’s a wanker” when the cherry bereted one and his bandmates failed to appear to pick up the best band award, an encounter with the luminous choppers of Spizz of Spizzenergi and there are plenty more moments and it’ll have to be enough just to say that it was a great night and if they do it again next year I’d like to be on the list please.
-words & photos: Ian Pickles